To kick off our series Lost Lions: where are Millwall’s fans? we look at the club’s sky-high ticket prices, and ask whether they are keeping Millwall fans away from the Den.
Here’s the rundown: Millwall supporters are better off saving their money by becoming a season ticket holder of Barcelona. It would be more cost-effective to hop on a plane to the Camp Nou and rent an Airbnb every other week instead of shelling out £333 for season tickets at the Den.
At Millwall, a club based in Lewisham who play in the third division of English football, season tickets are substantially pricier than the League One average; For Barcelona, Champions League regulars and one of the world’s most successful sporting team, the cheapest season tickets, in comparison, are priced at £113.93. Yes, Barcelona’s stadium is about five times bigger than Millwall’s. But is it right that Barcelona’s season tickets are a third of Millwall’s? But its not just the Catalan giants who offer the best value: Bayern Munich’s cheapest are at £120. Even Real Madrid’s cheapest are at £232
Millwall’s relegation to League One in 2015 had caused a considerable drop in attendance. Their highest attendance that season against Oldham attracted 12,419 visitors out of their 20,146-capacity ground (a ground 61 percent full). Their lowest that season – 7,657 as they lost to Barnsley in the league – meant that only 38 percent of their ground was filled.
But do high ticket prices really have that big an impact on match day attendance?
Millwall’s tickets are the third most expensive in League One. Millwall’s cheapest season ticket at £333 is 17 percent above the league average, while their most expensive at £514 is 23 percent above the average. The club froze season ticket prices for 2015-16 after relegation from the Championship, but Millwall’s cheapest tickets are still more expensive than the cheapest at Manchester City in the Premier League.
We’ve detailed some cheaper, better alternatives to being a Millwall season ticket holder with our handy infographic.
“It’s extortionate, all of it,” says long-time Millwall supporter Tony Baker who owns a small business in Bermondsey. “Families and kids here just can’t afford it. This is why we don’t fill our ground. They should bring the prices down to get the families involved.”
Nick Heart, head of communications for the Association of Millwall Supporters doesn’t deny Millwall’s poor attendance record or the high ticket prices, but doesn’t feel that the two have a direct correlation. As we touched on in the first part of our series, Nick states it all has to do with form and performance.
“I don’t think ticket prices have that direct of an impact in the way we think it does,” says Heart. “If there’s a big game, tickets will sell out, but I think the main drive is playing form and performance. Attendance has understandably been a bit poorer since we’ve been relegated to League One. But I’m not sure higher ticket prices are the number one factor of match day attendance. I’d like to see cheaper ticket prices, but I’m not sure it would make a dramatic change.”
High ticket prices have been a nationwide problem not only limited to Millwall or League One. English football prices are, on average, among the highest in Europe.
Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Federation, has said: “Football in England has become drastically more expensive over the last 20 years and that inevitably means more and more people are being priced out of following their teams.”
Last February, 10,000 Liverpool supporters protested against the increase of home tickets by walking out of the stadium during a Sunderland match in response to Main Stand ticket prices rising from £59 to £77. Chants of “you greedy bastards, enough is enough” were sung in full voice by the home fans as they walked out at the 77th minute.
Ex-Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher argued that the walkout wasn’t just for Liverpool fans, that it was staged with supporters of all clubs across all football leagues in mind: “It wasn’t just Liverpool fans sticking up for themselves. It was Liverpool fans saying ‘enough is enough’ for every supporter across the land.”
The fact that Millwall are a London-based club is significant when taking the club’s high prices into consideration. London ticket prices are high in general – Arsenal’s most expensive season ticket at £2,013 is 62 percent higher than Liverpool’s – and geographic location accounts for everything. Despite being more expensive than the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus, and Barcelona, Millwall’s prices are pretty much in accordance with other London clubs , although they are still more expensive than West Ham, who play in the Premiership.
“It has to do a lot with the fact that Millwall play in London, and are a London-based club,” adds Heart. “Costs in the capital are obviously much higher than outside London, or generally around the rest of England. It’s clearly one of the most expensive cities in world to live in, and here we are, smack in the middle of it. Cost, I would think, is very much associated with that geographic factor.”
However, not all clubs follow this. Fellow south Londoners Crystal Palace – who play in the Premier League and whose Selhurst Park ground is that not far away from Millwall – have ticket prices that are well below the league average and keep a healthy record of match day attendance.
Palace’s cheapest season ticket at £420 is 11 percent below the league’s average, and their most expensive is priced at £740, 15 percent below the league average. Since Palace gained promotion back into the Premiership in 2014, attendance rose by 41 percent, and since then, the club have managed to chart an annual steady rise of 0.18 percent, clocking in an average season attendance of 24,635 in the 2015-2016 season. Selhurst Park’s capacity is 26,309.
Obviously a huge factor impacting a club’s attendance and ticket sales is playing form and performance.
Fans would understandably rather go to a match when their team is consistently playing well and is more likely to win. Millwall’s relegation to League One saw their attendance decrease significantly in the league. But Millwall’s attendance during their FA Cup runs tell a different story. Their FA Cup fifth round home victory against Leicester saw an attendance of 18,012, which is significantly better than their league attendance.
But then why aren’t Millwall doing more to assure that their ticket prices are more affordable to their fans, guaranteeing a fuller stadium?
Millwall have declined to comment on why their tickets are so expensive. The negative correlation between their poor match day attendance and expensive tickets would suggest that a solution would be to slash ticket prices, enabling more fans to attend. More tickets would be sold, and as a result, the ground would be fuller.
According to Deloitte’s latest annual revenue of football finance: “Matchday revenue now only represents an average of around a fifth of total revenue for [Premier League] clubs, with broadcast and commercial contributing the vast majority. In fact, in 2016/2017 matchday revenue is projected to contribute only 14% of Premier League clubs’ income.”
It is conceivable, therefore, that clubs could drop their ticket prices without damaging their revenue too badly. Fellow League One club Bradford City did just this with their season tickets in 2015, and the result was a success. Bradford slashed season ticket prices by £50 to £149 and sold 18,000 tickets, nearly doubling their number of season ticket holders from the year before. When Bradford dropped their prices by 25 percent, they saw their revenue increase by 67 percent.
Many in the game feel football clubs have a responsibility to make it affordable to those on low incomes, young supporters and unemployment. And Millwall draw their a proportion of their support from some of the most deprived boroughs in London.
Additional reporting by Oliver Tozer
Our series Lost Lions: where are Millwall’s fans? continues tomorrow, when we ask: is hooliganism driving fans away?